Comanche County youth speak to community leaders about substance abuse

Comanche County_More than half of Comanche County teens are considered high-risk - mostly due to alcohol and drug abuse.  A report from the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services says that local teens don't have enough activities to participate in to keep them out of trouble.  Three-thousand teens admitted they were bored.

Community leaders in Lawton met on Friday to discuss prevention.  At the summit, they discussed how teens are not getting enough positive support in their lives from parents, community, friends, or schools.  It wasn't only adults who attended the discussion - some of the 'leaders' were youths.

The discussion centered on the topic - in their own words - teens getting high using a variety of drugs.  Law enforcement officials, school board leaders, community activists, and local politicians heard from teens about what they need, and why they see their friends turn to risky behavior.  "I've seen my family hurt from substance abuse, so I want to help them," said Youth Leaders Coalition member Garnett Sadler.  "I also want to help other people so they don't get hurt by substance abuse."  The teens in attendance know that their friends and classmates who become the statistics - they see what happens when teens become detached from their families and schools.

Wichita Mountains Prevention Director Lisa Barnes says she wants a solution.  "The community's got to come to the table on this," she said.  "The schools are doing a tremendous amount of work.  Our families need our assistance - need more support - but they also need to take more responsibility for what's going on in their neighborhoods."

The result of the study showed that prevention is working, and most teen substance abuse is down.  "We've really come down in tobacco use," said Barnes.  "Marijuana use is down dramatically.  There are some other areas we really need to work on - particularly binge drinking in the older students in 10th and 12th grade."

The survey demonstrated that Lawton can be proud of its schools, but its neighborhoods and peers may not provide enough positive prevention.  Schools are doing all they can to lower risk and increase protection.  "If we work together, we can ensure that we bring those risks down," said Lawton Public School Deputy Superintendent Linda Dzialo.  "We've received very good news today, that some of those risks are decreasing from 2004 to 2008.  We're making progress."

Sheriff Kenny Stradley says he's impressed with the teens who spoke at the summit, and says more should listen to them.  "A lot of times people just go on and say, 'Well, they need to listen to us, they don't know anything; but I've learned,'" he said.  "We've all been worried about our generation, but with a group like this, we don't have to worry about it."

Experts say prevention doesn't only save lives, it also saves money.  The Substance Abuse Department says $1 spent on prevention saves $14 in taxpayer money.  One-dollar spent on treatment saves 37 tax dollars.  If you would like more information on the study, visit the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services website at www.odmhsas.org.